recently, a straight married male friend and i (a straight, 20-something engaged female) were in the middle of a conversation. we were both laughing and participating in general friendly conversation about star wars or music or some other shared nerdy interest.
suddenly, as though someone has sucked all the air out of the room, he stopped talking. his smile faded as he looked out the window listlessly. he left our conversation abruptly and without warning. it was as if we had laughed too hard or smiled too genuinely and his ring, like a noose, tightened around his finger reminding him of what was waiting for him at home. which, society tells me, is probably a wretchedly jealous, nagging and shrewish, wrinkly, old, cranky, saggy wife who is ruining his life.
straight women feel we understand these kind of straight men. society tells us that these men are lost. these men are aimlessly wandering through the lonely woods of monogamy, looking through the gaps in the trees for any sense of a life outside of a forest they once willingly walked into. the patchy sunlight through the tree tops is a reminder of what exists outside the boundaries of the forest of monogamy, a reminder that there could be more. in contrast to women who are told they are worthless without children and a family, these men are taught to become weary, angry, and resentful of domestic life.
society tells straight women that we can save these hopeless men from their domesticated hellhole of a life. we can fix you! we can show you fun! we can make you happy again! we can be your sunlight! we can be happy and carefree, in spite of that nagging and shrewish, old and wrinkly wife, and breathe life back into you, you poor, sad, entitled man!
at least, that’s what our backwards societal rhetoric wants straight women and men to believe.
but what about straight women who merely want friendships with men? a shared experience? a platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex? what about women who honestly respect the boundaries of marriage and relationships, are perhaps married themselves, and sincerely want to be ‘just friends’?
the inability for straight men and women to be ‘just friends’ is the unfortunate reality of a patriarchy which describes young single women as coy and shallow manic pixie dream girls and older married women as controlling, nagging, rage bitches like skyler white. and when real-life relationships develop with people we understand in unrealistic terms, there is a disconnect between what we understand to be true and what is actually true.
women can’t hold eye contact too long, smile too genuinely, share excitement in shared interests, or begin a conversation just for conversation’s sake with these straight taken men. doing any of these things would make us the enemy to the wives and girlfriends of these men and that, unfortunately, is always in the back of our heads. and women of american society are taught to fear and loathe other women we perceive as threatening (prettier, taller, skinnier, richer, funnier, smarter); especially when said woman is a friend of your husband or boyfriend.
when the once fun manic pixie dream girl inevitably ages into a wrinkly version of a nagging and shrewish skyler white (because women over 40 are useless, after all), men are told to search desperately for the high he had once before. he can find another manic pixie dream girl who can pull him out of this horrible, no-good, monogamous slump. after all, in a patriarchy where women are valued for fertility, beauty, and youth, straight men are painted as deserving of a woman who possesses the holy trinity of attractiveness.
but what if we lived in a world where women weren’t described in binaries: as either young and hot or old and shrewish? if women weren’t pitted against each other in competition for the nearest man? what if women weren’t described by some as harlots who use their body parts to taunt men who just can’t help themselves (says the duggar’s christian patriarchy life code)? if straight women weren’t taught to fear losing their man to another younger, prettier, sexier woman?
if we lived in a world where the sexes weren’t described in stereotypical and damaging ways, platonic friendships between men and women wouldn’t be such a cultural anomaly.
our hetero-sphere simply doesn’t have room for an understanding that a straight man and a straight woman can be friends. without sex. or sexual incentives. or any benefits at all other than those that come along with friendship. you know those silly things like trust, compassion, companionship, caring, and understanding to name a few.
our culture and media shape the way we perceive each other and our relationships to each other. when toxic stereotypes are perpetuated over and over again through media, our ideologies and understandings of each other begin to take shape. these insidious, as anita sarkeesian calls them, tropes and archetypes are perpetuated over and over again on television, in movies, books, and in music and video games.
for example, we know all too well the stereotypical man who fears engaging with other women without his wife or girlfriend around. or when a straight man’s wife or girlfriend is around he is suddenly reserved, as though he will go home and his wife or girlfriend will lazer beam him into telling “the truth” about whatever perceived relationship she thinks exists between any other woman and him. he is the man who is consistently hiding his relationships with others.
but this male stereotype wouldn’t thrive without the female counterpart: the straight female trope who is extremely passive-aggressive and manipulative. she is a cat on her haunches, her hairs on end, rearing and ready to attack, hissing and spitting with jealousy at any woman who even looks in her man’s direction. as a wife, she will kick your ass for not taking out the garbage or changing the toilet paper roll the right way. She will literally nag you to death. she is calculating, judgmental, terrifying, and scheming. her insecurities are practically oozing out of her mouth and nose, a thick green goop that can only be staunched by the vaporization of all other women off the face of the earth. despite the fact that women make up 51% of the american population, these tropes tell us that most women like their husbands and boyfriends to have very little interaction with other women.
the rhetoric of our society continues to perpetuate these stereotypes of straight men and women as reality through shows like the bachelor and the real housewives, even referring to the shows themselves as “reality tv”. but the reality is these shows tell us that women are vengeful, catty, obsessive, and will flip out if you even breathe in the direction of another woman . these shows also tell us that straight men deserve to have a woman who is young and hot, even if he is already married.
this kind of cultural ideology hurts women and men in different ways. men may come to the false understanding that their wives will not age, will not wrinkle, will not tarnish in any physical way. or they will see women as emotional messes who cry too much and can’t help but fall in love with every man they come in contact with. conversely, women may begin to see other women as the enemy: someone to be beaten out for the prize of the man. we see these interactions played out on our screens and in our culture over and over again. the cyclical nature of these ridiculous non-truths are what continue the abusive and toxic heterosexual rhetoric surrounding straight relationships (and america’s pervasive homo and transphobia) and heterosexual platonic friendships in america.
when a society reveres women for fertility, youth, and attractiveness, women tend to view themselves as only valuable because of these things. unfortunately, when it comes to platonic friendships, women often struggle with understanding why a man would want to be friends with another woman for any reasons other than her youth and attractiveness. to combat this fear, women do whatever they can to be the youngest, prettiest, most supple-looking woman in the room. when we look critically at the narrative of our culture, it should be no surprise that american women spend an average of $426 billion dollars per year on beauty products. this harmful cultural ideology is perpetuated through media, causing a vast majority of women, about 91%, to feel unhappy with their appearance.
ultimately, this objectification leads to women being treated and viewed as objects. objectification becomes the overarching narrative of a woman’s participation in her own life: it affects the partners she chooses, the career she pursues, the goals she has for herself, the social issues she finds important, her ability to raise her voice literally and figuratively, and whether or not she feels as though her opinion is valued. most importantly, this detrimental objectification narrative will severely affect the way she will raise her own daughters.
this vicious and sinister cycle is the reasoning behind the familiar female mantra: “i hate women.”
how often have we heard this battle cry? some women wear it as a badge of honor; “i don’t need other women”. the reality is, only other women can understand the plights and difficulties of life as a woman. the problem is not other women, the problem is how society tells women to view other women. women need to be allies, confidants, and pillars of strength for each other. we cannot be deterred by the vitriolic media circus that paints exaggerated portraits of women and men which threaten our ability to live our own authentic lives.
when women tear each other down, see each other as competition, or participate in passive-aggressive manipulative mean girl behavior (like taylor swift’s song ‘bad blood’), nothing gets accomplished. instead, the iron wedge of patriarchy continues to drive women further and further apart.
women need to find and embrace the authentic sisterhood that can be found in each other, and stop seeing each other as an enemy to be beaten. the media needs to write men not as entitled patriarchs and women not as objects, but as people capable of providing more than just sexual gratification.
our entire culture rhetoric surrounding each gender needs to be examined and changed. only then can platonic relationships between the sexes genuinely thrive.